News / Arts & Entertainment

Iceland Golfers Take On Lava Beds, Angry Birds and Wind

A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
Reuters
The names of the world's greatest golf venues roll off the tongue like a putt rolling toward the cup. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. Valderrama.
 
Then there are Vestmannaeyja and Porlakshafnar. Those names don't trip off the tongues of anyone except the hardy residents of Iceland. Surprisingly, this island in the frigid North Atlantic is one of the most golf-obsessed places on earth.
 
With 65 courses for a population of 322,000, Iceland has more courses per person - one for every 5,000 people -- than any other country.
 
Though many are just nine holes, that's nearly twice as many courses per capita as Scotland, according to a 2007 survey by Golf Digest. The magazine said Scotland had the most courses per capita but it didn't count countries with fewer than 500,000 people.
 
About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
 
In contrast to America and Britain, golf club membership in Iceland is still growing, albeit more slowly than before the country's banking bubble burst five years ago.
 
“We joke that if just three or four people are living near one another, they'll probably start a golf club,” said Haukur Orn Birgisson, a young attorney who serves as vice chairman of the Icelandic Golf Union.
 
Indeed, some clubs have as few as 20 members, dedicated souls who will upkeep the course themselves.
 
Birgisson's club, Golfklubberinn Oddur, just outside Reykjavik, is among the country's largest, with 1,300 members. Like most clubs in Iceland it is open to the public as well as members, charging a guest fee of 6,900 Icelandic krona ($57).
 
Iceland's golf season includes the annual Arctic Open tournament, scheduled this year for June 27 to 29. Open to amateurs and professionals alike, it's played at the Akureyri Golf Club in northern Iceland, which boasts of being “the most northerly 18-hole golf course” on earth.
 
Lava Beds, Terns, and Winds
 
Golf is popular in Iceland despite the obvious drawbacks. The season lasts just four months, from mid-May to mid-September. Summer temperatures rarely venture above 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) and even then occasional days of wicked winds and steady mist can keep all but the most foolhardy or dedicated off the course.
 
Iceland does offer unique advantages and challenges to golfers. Most notably, in June, July and August, golfers can play virtually 24 hours a day.
 
Golfklubburinn Keiler in suburban Reykjavik is booked solid all summer with starting times from 8 am until 10 pm.  Playing under the midnight sun can be surreal and sublime, especially if a tee time starts your round at 10 pm.
 
Another advantage: Iceland's cool, moist climate makes for lush, green fairways. Also, golf courses don't have trees to disrupt errant shots. Trees aren't native in Iceland.
 
Iceland does, however, have lava beds, volcanic rock from past eruptions. They dominate the rough on many courses and are filled with crevices that can swallow golf balls like a whale gulping down krill.
 
The lava beds also are nesting sites for Arctic terns, birds that migrate from pole to pole. Golfers hitting near a tern's nest will find themselves playing their next shot under aerial bombardment from the ill-tempered birds.
 
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
x
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
Formidable lava beds line the course on Heimaey Island, population 4,500, about three hours by car south east of Reykjavik. A lava flow from a 1973 volcanic eruption almost choked the harbor, but today cruise ships bring bird watchers, nature lovers and, yes, golfers.
 
The sheer cliffs, lava beds and sea vistas made it “the most dramatic course I have ever played”, said Kimber Bilby, an American from Michigan who played the course recently in calm weather with her fiance´, Bob Prust, a physician. One of their favorites was the par three 17th hole, which requires a tee shot across a sea inlet and lava beds to reach the green.
 
On the day the couple played, most golfers on the course were local Heimaey residents, many of them children of high-school and even grade-school age.
 
“I was watching the kids practice their chipping and putting, and they were awfully good,” said Prust. “It was obvious they had played the course many times.”
 
As for why golf is so popular here, Birgisson cites the Icelandic character.
 
“We always seem to go 'all in,' and golf is no exception,” he explained. “That mentality didn't serve us well leading up to the banking crisis, but it has taken us far with golf.”

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Pianist Myra Melford’s new CD “Life Carries Me This Way” features solo piano interpretations of drawings by modern artist Don Reich. She performs songs from the album, talks about turning art into music, and joins host Eric Felten in some Chicago boogie-woogie on "Beyond Category."